The paper shredder, the yin to the copying machine's yang, may have gotten a bad press over the past decade, but it nevertheless has become a standard piece of office equipment in many government agencies, according to government security and property officers.
The furor swirling around the decision of Environmental Protection Agency officials to shred copies of some documents subpoenaed by Congress has once again sliced up the reputation of the much-maligned machine. Related story, Page A2
Shredders first fell into disrepute in the days when Dita Beard was trying to hide ITT's connections with the Nixon administration, and later played a role in the Watergate cover-up.
But for the General Services Administration, the shredder is simply another item on Schedule 36-2, which covers such "special industrial machinery" as lithographic printing plates, bookbinding equipment and pulverizing machines.
In fiscal 1982, federal agencies bought $1.8 million worth of paper shredders and $1.5 million worth of paper pulverizers to handle classified material, according to Charles Hulick, director of GSA's procurement office. Hulick couldn't say how many were purchased, but if the average price of a shredder is $1,000--as cited by a firm that sells them--that would mean that roughly 1,800 shredders were purchased by the government last year.
Jerry Rubino, director of the Justice Department's security staff, estimates that his agency has several hundred at headquarters and in all of its field offices.
"It's just a piece of office equipment as far as we're concerned. I've worked for government for 25 years and we've always taken it for granted. You just push a button and the paper comes out looking like spaghetti," he said.
" . . . There are all kinds of shredders," Rubino said. "Some do a good job and some do worse." He added that there's "a good-sized one" somewhere in the basement of the main Justice building "if someone has large documents. It takes a long time to shred documents page by page."
Truman Temple, a public affairs spokesman at the EPA, said the agency has 10 shredding machines, most in the Waterside Mall complex and one or two at the agency's Crystal City offices. The two shredders used by former assistant administrator Rita M. Lavelle's office are bottom-of-the-line machines costing $557 apiece.
The price of shredding machines ranges from $200 for small desk-top models to $15,000 for some of the more elaborate versions, according to Jim Whitaker, president of Whitaker Brothers, one of the three Washington-area firms that have GSA's approval to sell shredders to the government.
Thanks to the Clean Air Act, which severely curtailed outdoor burning, and the Privacy Act of 1975, which increased the need to destroy government documents concerning individuals, shredders and their mechanical cousins, pulverizers, have been enjoying boom times for the better part of a decade.
Who in government uses them? There's no central record, but a spot-check of agencies showed:
* The Health and Human Services Department has a shredder in a locked room in its North Building. It's most frequently used to destroy payroll documents, according to Claire del Real, an agency spokesman. In Baltimore, the Social Security Administration has "two or three," said spokesman Jim Brown.
* NASA probably has about eight, said Kenneth T. Cline of NASA's Security Office. "They're used to destroy classified material," he said.
* The Defense Department has "a consolidated operation here in the building," said a spokesman. "We have a pulping plant and an incinerator. The stuff comes out in tiny little pellets and we recycle it." He could not come up with an immediate estimate of the number of individual shredders in the agency, since procurement is decentralized.
* The IRS has "several--we don't have one giant shredder," said spokesman Ellen Murphy.
At the CIA, a spokesman said the agency "won't reveal how we dispose of our documents." But Terry Ellis of the National Endowment for the Humanities was quick to say his agency doesn't own one. "We're not guilty of shredding anything," he said.